When Autumn Long arrived at Beattie Park last year for her first round of disc golf, the Lompoc native had no idea what was in store.
“I knew nothing,” she said. “I had never heard of disc golf — didn't even know it existed.”
It didn’t take long for that to all change.
Long, 29, was brought to the course that day by a group of her friends. She followed and observed them before deciding to pick up a disc herself, quickly falling in love and becoming a regular at the course over the next few months. After a while, though, she began to notice a pattern among the players.
“I realized there were no women out here. None,” she said, noting that her own playing partners were all guys. “So I thought, you know, this is not right, there should be girls out here too.”
That’s when she decided to do something about it.
Long, a former softball player, printed some fliers and began to encourage her female friends to give the sport a try. She also started a push on Facebook to get more women out to the park.
A couple of months after beginning her mini-campaign, she organized the course’s first female-only tournament, which drew 13 players in the spring. After that, she began putting on monthly women’s tournaments — on the third Sunday each month — and weekly all-female matches on Monday nights.
“My goal is to get more women out here,” Long said.
The monthly tournaments have gained some traction and are growing each month, she said. She’s also received assists from some of the top women in the sport. Professional player Sarah Hokom, who was the 2012 world champion, and fellow pro Valarie Jenkins have each donated items, such as autographed discs, to be given away as prizes.
“(Hokom) lives in Idaho and she sends me prizes,” said Long, who found the pros on Facebook. ”I’ve bought a few (prizes) with my own money, but a lot of it has been donated.”
Fellow Lompoc resident Lindsay Cummins was a lot like Long when she first discovered the sport. She said she would walk the course with her boyfriend and his dog, while he and his guy friends would play.
“It got to the point where it was like, ‘Why don’t I just join in?’” she said. ”One day he threw me some discs and was like, ’You’re playing today’ So I just kind of got thrown in it.”
The sport is a lot like regular golf, except with discs and chain-link baskets instead of balls and pins. The Beattie Park course, which opened in 2011, was expanded to 18 holes last summer. Each hole is a par 3.
Much like golfers use different clubs for different situations, disc golfers use different discs. Some are made to drift in particular directions while others are built for different distances. Drivers are for long range attempts, while putters are for shots closer to the hole.
Vanessa Kolkow, who is a host at Beattie Park and has the seen the sport’s rise in popularity locally, said it truly is a game for everyone.
“It’s an easy sport to learn,” she said, noting that she’s seen players range from 3 to 75 years old.
Kolkow and her daughter, Tammy, each play in the Monday night women’s league. Vanessa has coached various sports in the Special Olympics, for which Tammy has competed, but she said getting into disc golf was a little scary at first due to the number of advanced male players who dominated the course.
“When the course first opened, there was like two women,” she said. “It was very intimidating watching all the guys play. When I’d throw a disc, it would land 10 steps in front of me.”
Kolkow finally gave it a try after seeing more women play, though, and said she’s now glad that she did.
Cummins said she enjoys playing with the men and the women. The women’s matches can be more competitive from a scoring standpoint, she said, but the men’s matches can be more fun from a motivational perspective.
“When you’re around players like that, you kind of throw your all into it because you really want to beat the guys,” she said. “So it’s just about the drive you have and just having fun.”
That sentiment was shared by Lauren Vance, another course regular who began playing about a year ago.
“I really enjoy playing with the guys because it’s a step up and you get to watch them play and try to compete with them, but it’s a lot of fun to kick it with the girls, too,” she said. “I enjoy both aspects.”
Long, who has competed in some major state tournaments herself, is hoping that the attendance at the local women’s tournaments and Monday night matches continues to grow. She averages about six to eight players on Monday nights, with the tournaments drawing slightly more. By contrast, the men’s events draw 40 to 50 players.
Long said it has been fun seeing some of the women players develop. One, she noted, improved her driving distance by 75 to 100 feet in just three weeks of play.
For as much as she now loves disc golf, Long has still yet to ever play a round of traditional golf. Much like she was with the discs, though, she said she’d be willing to pick up a club and give it a try.
“Maybe one of these days,” she said. “If someone invited me, I’d probably say sure.”